DAW2016: Bioware

BiowareLogo

DAW2016_logo

Developer Appreciation Week is here!  For the uninitiated the concept of Developer Appreciation week dates back to 2010 and was started by Couture Gaming the Blogger formerly known as Scarybooster.  The idea was simple, spend a week talking about all of the things you love about various game development companies and studios.  As a blogger we spend plenty of time pointing out what is wrong in the games we love, and talking about ways that they could be better.  That said it is important to understand that for most of us this critique comes from being a huge fan of the games and genres as a whole.  So during this week we point out the things that are going right and make a point of mentioning all the things we really appreciate out there.  If you too are a blogger please feel free to join in by posting your own Developer Appreciation Week ideas.

BiowareLogo

This is going to be a difficult one to tackle, especially since I didn’t get a ton of sleep thanks to the tornado warnings.  However I am going to give it to good college try, and hope that the end result turns out at least not too shabby.  I first became aware as Bioware as a company with the release of Baldur’s Gate, or more so the existence of what I later came to know as the “Infinity Engine”.  I have been a fan of Dungeons and Dragons since I first found a players manual abandoned in a locker on the last day of school in second grade.  Finding that book spawned a lot of things, not the least of which was trying to hungrily gobble up anything TSR related.  I played the “gold box” series of games, namely because I had read the novels behind a lot of the stories.  There was just something missing with the game, and while I enjoyed them at the time they never really felt that good.  The story that was being told felt limited by the meager technology, and while I was happy enough with the end product…  that only lasted until I had played my first Final Fantasy game.  Baldur’s Gate was the title that brought me back from my console days into once again believing that the PC was a great platform for role-playing games.

Subsequent games were released…  Icewind Dale, Baldurs Gate II and even one of my all time favorites… Planescape Torment… all using this “Infinity Engine” I have to admit I got a bit of the wrong idea behind what exactly the company Bioware really was.  In my mind it seemed like Bioware was the tools company, and Interplay, Black Isle, or later the reboot Obsidian were the game creator.  It wasn’t until Neverwinter Nights was released that I really started to understand that Bioware was both the tools division and a lot of great storytelling wrapped into one package.  Neverwinter Nights was one of those revolutionary games for me personally.  While the original campaign was awesome… it was the inclusion of the aurora toolset that set my mind on fire.  At this time I was playing a lot of Everquest and Dark Age of Camelot so I tried to replicate some of my favorite features of those games using the Neverwinter engine.  I learned the C Script language and figured out how to code things like randomly generated loot from tables when you opened chests or killed mobs.  I also eventually figured out how to create a token based system along the lines of the one that allowed you to purchase armor in the Darkness Falls dungeon.  The end result was this amalgam of the EQ Plane of Hate and DAoC Darkness Falls that I called the “Plane of Spite”.  While I never did anything really interesting with it, I loved every single moment of working on it and figuring out the inner machinations of this engine.

It was not really until Knights of the Old Republic that I hopped back on the Bioware fandom, and I remember being crushingly disappointed when I learned that the title was going to be Xbox Exclusive.  Thankfully later that year it came out for the PC and I was absolutely thrilled to be dissecting that game world as well.  I loved Neverwinter Nights for its technical precision, and the Aurora and Infinity engines for giving me this awesome framework to go out and explore worlds in.  However KOTOR was the first time from Bioware that I was completely stunned by the storyline.  Last week we went into a discussion on AggroChat about the best Star Wars stories, and by the end of that show all of us pretty much came to the consensus that Knights of the Old Republic was if not the absolute best story, it was at least among them.  There are moments in this game that had shocking revelations that I have never quite recovered from.  Even though the engine is dated, and the graphics look like crap compared to what I am used to… I can still play this game happily over and over just because it was so damned well crafted.  I’ve bought it for others, and even own the mobile port of the game.  I feel like this game more than any set the tone for the modern incarnation of Bioware.

I ultimately for one reason or another skilled Mass Effect at launch, and instead picked up the Bioware banner once again with the release of Dragon Age: Origins.  During this period of time I was raiding in World of Warcraft rabidly… but there were a few weeks where I completely dropped off the face of the planet, and it was thanks to this game.  I was just completely enthralled with the world and the setting, and the concept of the dark spawn and deep roads.  I am a Dwarf at heart, so I loved every single moment of Orzammar.  My first play through was as a Dwarven Noble, and I have to say after all of the subsequent play sessions that is still the one I cherish the most.  Much the same as KOTOR, it was ultimately the characters that set this game apart from the others I had played.  They felt so fleshed out and three dimensional, and I actually cared about interacting with them.  I am a huge proponent of smashing things with a big weapon, and games that allow me to slaughter by the hundreds… but it is significantly harder to find a game that makes me feel.  Dragon Age made me feel so much, and during this time I had a really interesting encounter.  One of my guildies invited me to tank for some friends of his, and when I popped onto voice chat we had some of the usual getting to know a new person discussion.  I mentioned that I had been playing a ton of Dragon Age… and it was at this point that they started grilling me about this character or that, or what decision I made where.  It turns out that I was ultimately raiding that night with a bunch of the writers, and you could almost hear them beaming as they proudly chimed in that they wrote this or that as I gushed about various details.

With the release of Mass Effect 2, I later went back and became an addict of that series as well.  I still wish that someone would make that into a Walking Dead style serialized television show, because the story that is being told is among the best science fiction tales ever.  It just seems a crime that the only folks that will ever see the story, are the ones who have played through the game.  Then you of course have the release of Star Wars the Old Republic, that my friends and I tore through rabidly when it launched.  I burnt myself out on that game but recently a bunch of us ended up going back and remembering just how damned well written all of the story arcs really are.  At some point soon I want to go back and finish where I left off which is the start of the Revan content, and try out the new experience fallen empire content that I have heard so much about.  For sake of time though I am going to wrap things up, because otherwise I could probably carry on for a dozen more paragraphs talking about all of the things from Bioware games that I love.  It is a great studio, and while I was scared that EA would destroy its spirit… I have been pleasantly surprised that the core values of the company and the creative might seem to keep trucking along happily.  I look forward to more adventures be it with Andromedia or the next great IP that we have yet to experience.

SkyForge Impressions

Recreating Belghast

SkyForge_BelvsBel Skyforge is one of those games that I have consistently been unable to decide if I am interested in.  There are certain aspects of the game that I really like, but then again there are certain aspects that I am really uncertain of.  [Edit] Having to rewrite a chunk of this real quick because I was under the false impression that this game was from a Korean publisher.  I guess this is primarily a Russian game with the assistance of Obsidian an American company.  I guess this explains why I could easily create a character I liked when I have so much trouble doing this in most Korean MMOs. [UnEdit] So I was pleasantly surprised that I could create “Belghast” or at least a reasonable facsimile.  In the above comparison you can see the traditional old school “WoW Bel” against what I was able to create using Skyforge, and I am pretty happy honestly with the look and feel.

SkyForge_WeirdManTouchingMe Last night I spent some time streaming my first few adventures into the game, and as such did not take a lot of screenshots.  The result is you are going to end up with a lot of screen captures from my stream that include my little chat blocker box thingy.  As the weird little man that is touching my face asked me what I think…  that is ultimately going to be my mission this morning.  I can’t really call it a review, since I have not spent more than a couple of hours playing it.  I can however talk about my thoughts.  There have been so many times I have missed out on a games open beta period only to kick myself later when I start to get interested in the game.  Similarly there have been many games that I bought my way into… only to find out later that I didn’t really care for the game at all.  Even though I am still very much engrossed in Final Fantasy XIV and spent about four hours playing that last night AFTER my foray into Skyforge, I felt I owed it to myself to give the game a test drive.  Similarly if you are on the fence and looking to my article to give you some guidance… I highly suggest you just try the game yourself while it is free.

The Setting

SkyForge_MoreQuestText For those who have been around MMOs for awhile, you will remember a game that was discarded somewhere along the way called Imperator.  Mythic games had originally planned on building its “Rome in Outer Space” title but quickly dropped the title when they got the license for Warhammer Online.  After playing a little Skyforge I seriously wonder if someone from that original Imperator team rebooting this idea over at either Obsidian or Allods.  Imperator_CollesiumThere are only a few screenshots from the original Imperator team around, but to the right is one of the more interesting ones.  From what I have seen of the world of Skyforge, it very much shares the same look and feel of a “Rome in Space” concept.  To carry this even further the enemies and their leaders have a very “ancient egyptian” feel to them, which makes me wonder if we are going to see a lot more of these “high tech ancient  civilizations” concept as we get deeper into the game.

Skyforge 2015-07-17 06-07-54-37 The game does a decent job of setting up the story of how you came to have the powers you do and setting up a reason for why you can die multiple times and keep respawning.  Your character is an Immortal, and just like in Highlander your powers do not manifest until you have died the first time.  The introduction to the game is the story of how you died during what turned out to be a suicide mission.  One of the interesting things about the game is that you play a fully armored character during the introduction and then choose your appearance later as you are telling your tale.  While I may have missed it, it did not seem like I had a way to change my gender during this introduction.  So I am wondering if that means that quite literally everyone is “male by default” until you get back to base and choose your gender and appearance.  This did not bother me on a personal level, but I could absolutely see how this would really be a sticking point for some folks and rightly so.  As you can see from the screenshots… the world is absolutely gorgeous and every little aspect of it feels highly detailed.

The Paladin

SkyForge_PaladinShield Since I tend to always play tanks in MMOs… I opted to roll the paladin.  I am not sure if EVERYONE starts as one of three classes, or if this is just limited to the Open Beta, but I was limited to a choice of Paladin, Cryomancer and Lightbinder.  These represent the tank, dps and healer essentially, and this is a game much like Final Fantasy XIV where you can swap your class at any given time.  Unfortunately the Paladin is the only one of the starter classes that I have any interest in…  there are really three classes in this game that interest me and that is the Paladin, Knight and Berserker.  Now we are going to start delving into some of the negatives.  Combat is similar to Neverwinter Nights which in itself is not bad.  Essentially it is a combination of mouse clicks augmented by abilities you cast off keys around your WASD and numeric keys that tend to have long recast times.  It uses a system similar to TERA in that your secondary mouse button is a variable combo ability.

SkyForge_PaladinSpinAttack As a Paladin my combos offered an impressive 360 degree whirl attack that you can see above, a single target lightning bolt, and a frontal cone slash attack.  The problem being is that the combo system seemed to have a mind of its own.  In Tera it related to a certain number of clicks… in Skyforge it seems to be tied somehow to your character animation.  As a result I found it really hard to predict when I could hit a specific attack and always seemed to have the wrong ability available as my combo attack at the wrong time.  Now this combo tree is something you can fiddle with freely and maybe given some time I could sort out how best to use it.  However it gives the combat interaction a bit of a “sloppy” feel to its design.  I find myself greatly preferring the ability to press a unique button for each attack rather than allow the game to sort all of that out for me.  I know at least if I press the button, an ability will fire…  instead here it felt more like the game was playing for me sometimes and I was simply mashing the attack buttons blindly.

SkyForge_PaladinFinisher I feel like all of the attacks were designed to look and feel impressive.  For example the above screenshot is of me executing my finisher, that shows up when the mob is low on heath and there is a pop up window telling me to hit E to use it.  It involves me throwing the mob up into the air and then a bolt of lightning or holy power or whatever it is that Paladins care about striking them back down to the ground.  Again this felt like something I had to freaking mash E for whenever the mob was getting close to being low enough to use it… because my main attack seemed to run away with itself and I would get locked in a combat animation that seemed to be of variable length.  The thing I keep coming back to is that maybe this game feels significantly better when played with a controller than with a mouse and keyboard.  I need to sort through the settings and see if it supports my Xbox 360 controller because this might be an awesome offering to the console market more so than it is to the PC one.

My Impressions

SkyForge_PaladinCharge Like I said at the start of this I have really not spent much time playing the game at this point.  I got in yesterday morning and last night, and between those two play sessions I have completed two of the small instanced missions.  After the second mission I went back to the main hub and got yet another one… and then decided that I was not really having enough fun to keep playing that night.  That is a bad sign, for me personally.  I love combat and combat missions, and if a game wants to throw me at kill X things… I generally eat them up like warm cobbler covered in ice cream.  The problem is… I just found the combat boring and repetitive.  I feel like maybe I am not grasping the “master plan” to its design but it really felt like I had to wail away at random with abilities and mash my shield whenever it was up to keep from taking damage.  It really did not feel like there was much structure to the flailing about, and I found this frustrating especially compared to say the Cryomancer that I watched Jabberant play that seemed to have lots of strategy to it.  It could just be a side effect of my being used to Final Fantasy XIV where every single key press feels like it has some importance behind it.

I’ve embedded my play session from last night so that you can see how the game looks and feels while moving through combat.  I am not giving up on this game quite yet, but I will say my first day of play was “strike one”.  Maybe it feels better as I go along, but I have a feeling that pretty much all of this game is going to be a Lobby/Instance approach with no real “open world” to go exploring.  I might be wrong, and maybe I just have not seen “leveling zones” yet but the whole thing feels a lot like the way DDO did content, mixed with the combat styling of Neverwinter Nights.  All of this said, since you can get in now for free and give it a spin… then I suggest you try it out for yourself.  Maybe you will find it a refreshing experience, and not the boring and repetitive one that I found.  Maybe I was simply in the wrong mindset, because yesterday was a really long day.  In any case I am going to give it a few more shots this weekend to see if it does anything for me.  Sometimes games take a bit for me to enjoy, and this might be one of those.  In any case I am happy I gave it a shot before “buying in”.  So far the verdict is pretty mixed, but I wanted to at least put my thoughts to paper for anyone who might be interested in them.